Manly Poems – Vitaï Lampada

Plato said “Poetry is nearer to vital truth than history.”

While I am certainly not the type to sit and read books of rhyme for hours on end, I do appreciate the beauty of a good poem.

For this reason, I’m going to attempt to compile a series of famous poems focused on (as the above title suggests) the male. For years, poetry has been used to entice men to war, to inspire them in battle and to lament their deaths thereafter. As well as this, verse has been used for centuries to woo and romance, such as Shakespeare was wont to do from time to time.

Basically, I want to anthologise the poems which, if you were to stand up in a bar and recite one of them, all the men would nod and mutter “What a lad” and all the women would just swoon. Much like flashing your guns when there’s really no need:

Vitaï Lampada is Latin for ‘light of life’. The poem was written in 1897 by the British poet Henry Newbolt. At the time, the British Empire was at its zenith. This was fueled by a culture of duty and stoicism in the face of adversity in the formidable British Armed Forces – a culture which was routinely taught at Britain’s great public schools. In this poem, Newbolt describes how a future soldier learns endurance in cricket matches played in the famous Close of Clifton College in the South of England.

Vitaï Lampada

There’s a breathless hush in the Close to-night

Ten to make and the match to win

A bumping pitch and a blinding light,

An hour to play, and the last man in.

And it’s not for the sake of a ribboned coat.

Or the selfish hope of a season’s fame,

But his captain’s hand on his shoulder smote

“Play up! Play up! And play the game!”

The sand of the desert is sodden red –

Red with the wreck of a square that broke

The gatling’s jammed and the colonel dead,

And the regiment blind with dust and smoke.

The river of death has brimmed its banks,

And England’s far, and Honour a name,

But the voice of a schoolboy rallies the ranks –

“Play up! Play up! And play the game!”

This is the word that year by year,

While in her place the school is set,

Every one of her sons must hear,

And none that hears it dare forget.

This they all with a joyful mind

Bear through life like a torch in flame,

And falling fling to the host behind –

“Play up! Play up! And play the game!”


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